College Tuition Isn't Skyrocketing, But Neither Is Grant Money

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Good news about your college tuition! You might be paying a LOT, but consider yourself lucky.


Tuition and fees at public universities rose this year, but not as much as they have in previous years.

According to a pair of new annual reports from College Board, tuition went up only about three percent this year for in-state students at public universities. Increases for out-of-state tuition and private schools showed similar increases.


That’s a 30-year low, but don’t rejoice just yet.

Tuition assistance has also slowed. There had been an increase in financial assistance between 2009 and 2011, but that upward trend hasn’t been maintained, meaning that in many cases students are actually paying more for school now.

Here’s why: While grants, which don’t have to be repaid, increased significantly between the 2008-2009 and 2010-2011 school years, they declined slightly between 2010-2011 and 2012-13. Especially disconcerting is that Pell grant funding, designed to help low-income students, also dropped.

While it’s encouraging that college costs appear to be leveling somewhat, they are still rising and more than half of all college students have to take out loans to pay for higher education at a time when it has become increasingly difficult to find a job without one.


And, the report notes, the economic recovery has benefited upper-income families more than low-income families, meaning there’s an increasing income inequality that is making it harder and harder for poor families to afford what has for so long been viewed as the ticket out of poverty: higher education.

Non-tuition expenses like food and transportation also continue to rise.

So what can be done?

The short but complicated answer is that we need to make higher education more affordable.


The status quo isn’t working. State funding for higher education has declined as lawmakers have pared budgets.

“If we are to meet the needs of our citizens and our economy for increased postsecondary attainment,” College Board notes, “state budgets will have to give a higher priority to education in the coming years.”


Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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